PokerStars Chairman and CEO David Baazov takes voluntary leave over insider trading charges

As most in the poker world already know, PokerStars is owned by Amaya Inc. and David Baazov sits as Chairman and CEO of the company. Details have surfaced today, of five insider trading charges which have been filed against Baazov by Quebec’s securities regulator, the Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF.) The charges are reported to relate to the $4.9 billion buy out of PokerStars, and of course Full Tilt.

The official statement from Amaya indicates that Baazov will step aside for an undetermined length of time, on paid leave, so that he can deal with the allegations facing him. He will remain part of the board of directors, but the role of Chairman will be handed over to Divyesh Gadhia, who has been an Amaya director for six years, with Rafi Ashkenazi taking the position of CEO. Currently, these appointments are being described as a temporary measure.

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David Baazov

Here is a summary of the situation, and it’s seriousness:

What is insider trading?

Insider trading is the official term given to the illegal practice of using confidential information to gain an advantage in trades made on the stock exchange. People can make, or lose, millions on the stock exchange based on sudden changes going on within listed companies. Using inside knowledge of an imminent change to personally enrich yourself, is illegal.

What is Baazov accused of?

The charges facing Baazov relate to the alleged leaking of privileged information to his older brother, Josh Baazov. Furthermore, Josh Baazov is then alleged to have shared this information with a friend and associate, Craig Levett – the man who twelve years ago, founded the business which eventually grew to become Amaya Inc.

What is the scope of the scandal?

The two Baazov brothers, along with Levett, are just some of the thirteen names said to be involved in an investigation, details of which began to surface last week, when actions were first taken by the AMF. The accusation, is that $1.5 million was collectively gained by these individuals through the exchange of privileged information pertaining to the acquisition of PokerStars, along with other transactions dating back a number of years.

Will Baazov come back?

Regardless of the recent accusations, shareholders may be anxious to see Baazov return. A recent earnings report indicating that the expansion of gaming options within PokerStars is leading to a weakening of the poker backbone around which PokerStars was built. This is in addition to recent measures which have financially burdened poker players in order to help balance the books. While short term profits are incredibly important – long term concerns about the future of PokerStars and Baazov’s ability to run a successful online gambling company could perhaps be raised.

Can Baazov take control of PokerStars?

One way to eliminate the need to please shareholders would be for Baazov to buy a controlling stake in Amaya. This would secure absolute control of proceedings at PokerStars. February the 8th saw Baazov advise the board of his plans to do just that – although an offer hasn’t yet materialised. Reports at the time suggested that four senior executives would be part of the forthcoming proposal, although the names of those individuals were not released. It has been said that the offer would involve a valuation of C$21 per share, which is only C$1 higher than the initial takeover bid, and that there may be a rival gambling firm waiting in the wings with a better offer. Either way, it seems that a C$21 valuation may not persuade the board to undertake another upheaval of the company, but whether a bigger offer arrives or not – there are clearly unstable times ahead for PokerStars.

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